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July 14, 2005: I just finished George DeVault’s
"Your first tractor" Part
1 and Part
2. There is lots of useful information in them and they
pretty much follow along with the thinking I applied to my
first tractor purchase three years ago. I love our little
1989 Ford 32-horsepower 2810 diesel tractor, but it’s
been woefully inadequate for our 45-acre farm in Northwest
Ohio, and I’ve had to rethink my needs.
Devault seems to focus on small tractors in his stories.
A low-power unit may be adequate, or not, depending upon circumstances.
I have 32 tillable acres of Broughton clay, Paulding clay
and a bit of Roselms silt loam. I have planted winter wheat
and soybeans (so far) conventionally and it takes every one
of the Ford’s 32 horses to pull a two-bottom plow though
this ground. The tractor works nearly as hard with my other
implements. I’ve divided my fields into two parcels:
a 20 and a 12. Last fall, it took me 55 hours to work down
that 20 and plant it, because the implements my tractor can
pull cut such narrow swaths. I don’t mind hard work,
but this was an excessively large chunk of my time given that
farming is a "paying hobby" and not my primary job.
Not only that, my tractor was working at near 100-percent
capacity and using the same amount of fuel a larger tractor
working at a lower capacity would use. Yes, I compared fuel
usage with a neighbor with a tired 90-horsepower JD that doesn’t
run nearly as well as my Ford. Also, working anything at near
maximum capacity is not conducive to good longterm service.
I’ve already had one major component failure. I’ve
considered no-till, but drills small enough for this tractor
are virtually unavailable used anywhere close (at least in
three years of looking) and cost more new than what I paid
for the tractor with many extras.
One trend I have found is that the "useful" smaller
tractors, which to me means diesel power, a 3-point hitch
and live PTO, turn out to be very expensive horsepower. Not
only that, small implements are priced higher per foot than
larger ones. I speak mostly of used equipment here, but the
trends follow in new stuff as well. I don’t have unlimited
funds and want the farming to pay for itself at least, preferably
to also pay me burger-flipper wages for my efforts. Attaining
that goal is part of the enjoyment for me. My conclusion is
that I need a larger tractor... something in the 80-100 horsepower
range in a 4x2, or about 70 horsepower in a 4x4. The 4x4s
in that range are prohibitively priced for me (and hard to
find used around here), but older 4x2s are plentiful and in
my preferred $5,000 range for a decent unit. It will likely
be a high-hour machine, but considering it will only get 30
hours a year I should be able to make it last a long while.
I will also then have the option of going no-till relatively
inexpensively, getting a disc-chisel-type plow, a larger cultivator,
etc., all of which are available more easily and cheaply used
than small tractor implements. The implements I choose will
work the larger tractor at about 50- to 60-percent capacity.
Because I have a lot of goodies for the small unit, I will
keep it and use it for the everyday stuff that doesn’t
require big power, such as chopping, ditching, gravel-road
maintenance, snow clearing, hauling firewood, etc. It’s
much more fuel efficient in these modes than a larger tractor.
The big tractor will sleep until I need it for the hard stuff.
I would urge new farmers to think beyond the small tractor
when circumstances dictate. Do research on how long the work
will take on your acreage with different-size implements and
how much horsepower is needed to pull those implements, and
factor in some reserve power so you don’t work your
tractor to death. It makes sense. Farming for a living requires
that you make the most of your time. If you are a hobby farmer
like me, that’s equally true, unless you enjoy working
every waking minute of every day. Either situation could dictate
a larger tractor. A larger tractor may increase the "intimidation
factor" of learning to operate farm equipment for the
first time, but that’s less costly and onerous than
dealing with a poor initial choice and having to upgrade too
soon down the road.